DAY 67: Tues 19 May

A day of remarkable reverses, mostly preoccupied with vermin

I woke late today, at 8:57, despite not having watched a film in bed as originally intended! My phone had died during the night so there was no dawn chorus app to gently bring me out of my slumbers. 

Incidentally I can confidently reveal that the colour of a duvet cover makes no difference to whether the duvet will try to escape at night. My observations are only be anecdotal, so I make not claim mu evidence would stand up to scientific scrutiny. Nonetheless the duvet was again a mess this morning despite what seemed to me to have been a pleasant, peaceful, dreamless night’s sleep.

I rushed out in my dressing gown to let the chickens out. They were surprisingly muted having probably been calling me in vain for a couple of hours. There is a acrid smell in the air. My neighbours were out. They say the rats have been vey active this morning and bitten one of the dogs on the nose. The other dog got hold of and killed the rat and they have just burned its body. A promising start to the day.

There are 707 images on the wildlife camera I had mounted inside the chicken coop last night. It has been set off mostly by passing moths with only two sightings of rats. Just after 9pm a rat wanders around then reaches up and drink from the water carrier which I had hung a notch higher than usual. Then at half past midnight a rat again takes a drink. This could well be a sign that they have has been partaking of the poison…

There is a missed call on my phone when it comes back to life. It is from my neighbour asking me to call him. I do so but there is no answer. I  know he is at work, so I leave a message for him call back.

Then my son calls to say he is on the way over with his children. They have been up since 5 and they need to sleep so a long walk in the pushchair is today’s technique. His daughter wakes soon after they arrive and lights up the already bright sky with her smiles, and a few chortles too, while Dad changes her nappy on the visitors’ bench. Grandson No. 3 does not deign to wake this time, so they set off for home before he does so we avoid the wake-up tantrums of last time!

Soon after my neighbour calls, he says he has booked his dog in for a vet’s appointment after it was bitten by a rat this morning, and will send the vet’s bill to me. “I am not paying your vet’s bill,” I reply. “The rats are coming from your side,” he retorts. “They are not my rats,” say I. “Right,” he says “If you are not paying the bill, by this weekend your chickens will be dead.” And puts the phone down.

All very unsettling. I am not responsible for the existence of rats, and like the neighbours I am doing my best to be rid of them. We both have poison down. I no longer leave any food in the chicken run, and none is left outside in the garden at night. I don’t know if any of the dogs’ food is still left out overnight, but the rats will go searching everywhere. And we know they are coming in from outside our gardens.

Time to read to my grandsons, who have by now done their school work. But they give up on the story and lark about after just one chapter of Culann’s latest adventures. Their mum can see the signs and promises them a bike ride to the park.

I return another unanswered call from a very old friend in London who has been advised against going out by her doctor, given her age and medications. She has not registered as vulnerable so has not received food boxes and priority shopping. She lives alone up three flights of stairs above a bookies, and has no lift and no balcony. Friends have kept her larder stocked but it has been tough on her, and I suggest she register for the government assistance she is entitled to. 

She tells me that a friend of a mutual friend of ours, is very upset as he thinks he may have infected his mother with Covid19. She has just died in a care home, but he had gone down with the symptoms days after his last visit to her. This was before the care homes were in lockdown. It is the sort of horrific situation that results from the government’s inadequate precautions, testing and tracing. They have a lot to answer for, including the trauma, anxiety and guilt he will live with for the rest of his life.  

To calm myself down I go out to water the greenhouse and bring in some washing. It is 3:30, much later in the day than I thought. I still haven’t had any breakfast. Imagine my surprise (to say the least) when a rat emerges from beneath the fence of another neighbour’s garden beside my greenhouse, squeals as water from the hose catches it, and then runs pell-mell along the bottom of the fence and through my fruit and vegetable patch. It is long gone before I can catch up with it. Shaken I go back inside.

When my neighbour gets home he ask to meet me at the fence. He insists that the dead rat was not immolated this morning but says has it in a plastic bad and will sling it over the fence later. He says all the council tenants on his side of the fence are complaining to the council about me and my chickens and rats. I tell him about the rat I saw this afternoon, but he is having none it.

He repeats the suggestion of the council ratman that he make a hole in the fence to let the foxes in. Again I explain that the rats are after food, there is none now in the chicken run but there is in his dog pen. “They are not my rats,” I insist. But he is intransigent. He says I should have concreted the chicken run (he had offered to do this with me less than a week ago). He tells me he will pay his vet’s bill but if the chickens aren’t  gone within a fortnight he will chuck poison into the coop. I remind him that getting rid of the chickens won’t get rid of all the rats, They will look for food anywhere, and if there are no chicken they’ll go for his dogs’ food instead. He reminds me his dogs were there long before my chicken, and I remind him that there have been rats visiting in my garden sinceI moved here. All to no avail, He turns on his heal and goes indoors.

Shaken but unbroken I retire to watch the government presser, which I had frozen on the TV. Useless DEFRA minister Eustice is telling us that as only one third of the Bulgarians and Romanians who nrmally pick fruit and vegetable for British farmer have made it to (Brexit) Britain this year, the government has come up with a jolly wheeze. They have set up a special ‘Pick for Britain’ website so even those on furlough can supplement their income  with a second job and help bring in the harvest. Almost immediately a colleague tweets that the site is not working. Three hours later I try and its still showing a ‘Server Error’ message. Who will they blame if the harvests rots in the fields? Will it be the lazy Brits who gave up on this type of backbreaking work years ago, or the lazy Eastern Europeans who couldn’t be bothered to make use of their freedom of movement for one last chance to help British farmers? What sort of fools do these Tories take us for? 

By 7pm so preoccupied have I become that I still haven’t even had breakfast. I have had nothing but a black coffee since this morning and I am feeling slightly lightheaded, so I make myself a poached egg on fruit toast. 

A friend texts an offer of a 24” flats screen TV with built in DVD player for my house guest. He is delighted with this early Eld gift. Meanwhile another neighbour drops in some loose tea, for which I shall be most grateful in the morning. 

Then just before Iftar I get an excited text from my dog-owning neighbour to say there is a cat on my roof and it has caught rat! I call him and rush out to see. Looking down from his first floor window he tells me he had gone out earlier and seen a groggy looking rat which he thought had been at the poison, and killed in with a brick. Another bigger rat had been in the bait-box, he said, but got away. I told him my camera had caught a rat drinking in the hen coop last night, another sign they were reduced to taking tho poison.

I reassure him that I have already set things in motion to remove the chickens and replace them with a cat.. “”No, no!” he cried. “Don’t get rid of the chickens.” He apologised profusely for what he had said eerier and assured me that he would never kill an animal, and that between us we shall sort out the rat problem.

Confused, non-plussed? I should cocoa. All the tension drained out of my body and I came back inside feeling completely knackered and in need of a stiff drink. But I waited until after Iftar for a shot or two of Kirchwasser from my friends in Schriesheim, near Heidelberg. Meantime my son has sent me cuttings from Welsh and Canadian newspapers confirming that rats are getting bolder now restaurants and bars are closed and have begun seeking out new sources of food in people houses. Small comfort.

Tomorrow I must set about reviewing my friend’s paper again. Now my only thought is – what an appropriate moment to absorb myself in La Grande Illusion. 

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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